Blog, Winter Food

Japanese New Year The year of the Mouse.

I have talked a few times each year about the special foods and their significance over New Year (Oshogatsu) in Japan, but their are other new year traditions other than food.
In the new year things are a little different in Japan, it is more of a family affair and most people spend it at home until maybe going to a shrine or temple to pray for the coming year.

After the work parties called Bonenkai or ( forget the year ) you may partake in other activities.

It starts with preparing the house a few days before with something called O-Souji. This is basically a big clean ritual so you start the New year fresh and clean. This is more about doing the things that may get neglected in the year. Those cupboards that need a clean out or things you have been putting off doing as well as cleaning through the house.

Then items might be displayed in the home like Kadomatsu, a traditional decoration made from bamboo and pine. It is usually a set of two set in front of the home to welcome ancestral spirits or kami.

Shimekazari an ornament that represents a new start may be hung on the house entrance. It is believed to bring luck and prevent bad spirits entering the house.

Something else you might display may be a Kagami Mochi consisting of two round mochi on top of each other and an orange on the top. It is supposed to ward off fires from the house for the following year. It is normally placed in the household altar or like mine this year in my tokonoma as I’m now lucky enough to have a Japanese style room in my home.

The Mochi is traditionally eaten in a ritual called Kagami biraki on the second Saturday or Sunday in January.

At this time I normally make zenzai.

Decorations of the coming zodiac animal are displayed and this year 2020 it is the year of the mouse/rat.

There are twelve animal signs of each year, this is called juni-shi . The cycle rotates every twelve years and as we head into a new decade we also start again with the first of the 12 animal symbols. In China 2020 is the year of the rat but in japan it is the mouse . Is the mouse your birth animal ? If you were born 1960,1972,1984,1996,2008 you are a mouse .

It is said you are meticulous, charismatic, sensitive and intellectual you also can be manipulative, vindictive and over ambitious.
Walking the cherry blossom lined “Tetsugaku-no-michi” philosophers path in Kyoto you may be lucky enough to come across a beautiful little shrine tucked away off the path  Otoyo shrine . ( don’t walk past it it’s easy to miss ). Here you will be greeted by not stone foxes but stone carved mice figures who are the symbols of fertility, longevity and relationships.
People come here to ask for blessings in relationships and child rearing. This shrine attracts visitors
for hatsumode the first shrine visit of the year particularly when it’s the year of the mouse.

There is importance of the firsts of things on New Year’s Day. The first shrine visit ( hatsumode) if you go at midnight on the new year you will hear the temple bells rung 108 times a ritual known as Joya no Kane to ward off the 108 worldly sins. The  first sunrise ( hatsuhinode), the first dream (hatsuyume) if you dream of Mount Fuji or a hawk it is considered lucky. Even the first sound your hear all seam to have significance towards a sign of the year ahead.

On New Year’s Eve ( oh-misoka ) some Japanese people like to eat Toshikoshi Soba. Toshikoshi means end the old year and enter the new year. A hot bowl of buckwheat noodles eaten to symbolise good luck for the new year a head and it is also said to let go of hardships from the year. This maybe eaten while watching a singing contest that is popular on NHK while snuggled up under the kotatsu ( a heated table blanket).

I have spoken about the food in previous posts eaten at new year called osechi- ryori. Other things that might be done on New Year’s Day maybe they giving of  new year cards known as nengajo to friends or relatives. Children will receive little money envelopes known as otoshidama it is also customary to play games like badminton or go out and fly a kite. Board games like backgammon or snakes and ladders maybe played or children play with tradition spinning tops.

How to say Happy New year, if you wish to say happy new year to someone in Japanese and it is not yet new year then say Yoi Otoshio, if it is already new year say akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

I hope that  weather you are in Japan or not that you might be able to like me bring a little of the Japanese traditions into your home. Why not make soba or make special food for the new year. Make a wish as you watch the sunrise or set new year goals with a daruma doll. However you celebrate I wish you all a happy New year and as we go into a brand new decade Japan will eagerly await the 2020 Olympics and I am excited to be visiting Japan again for the 6th time!